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-204                                    VERDICT  OX IXDIA
IV
Calcutta at last. And always that terrible sense of caricature
to which we referred at the opening of this chapter.
It seemed to permeate every branch of society. On one of my
first days in the city I went to luiach with a young man who was
doing a fine job in the relief kitchens. He lived in a luxurious
modern flat; we had delicious cocktails ; the company was elegant
and distinguished.
' We never eat rice in this house/ he said. u Not since the famine.
I have told my cook not to buy it under any circumstances.5
And at precisely that moment the butler entered with a tray of
caviare on toast. It was not his fault; the caviare would have been
of no use to the skeletons outside. But the sense of caricature was
acute.
Everywhere it was the same. The friend with whom I was
staying had a bowl of goldfish. It was pleasant to sit on the
balcony and watch them swimming round, cool and glittering and
aloof. And then one day I noticed on the table by the bowl a little
packet labelled 'Finest Goldfish Food/ The contrast was trite and
obvious.. .the well-fed goldfish and the starving children.. .but
one's mind was beginning to develop morbid fancies, in which
even the obvious seemed swollen and distorted, like the slim figures
of the goldfish themselves.
AH down the mam shopping centres there were restaurants and
food-shops. Outside them, propped against the wall, huddled in
the gutters, sprawled over the steps, were the silent skeletons. If
you wanted to buy some chocolate to send home to England you
had literally to step over the bodies. I only did it once—the whole
thing was too painful and embarrassing. After a few days the
-very sight of food was hateful.
My first attempt at private charity was not a success. One day,
from the balcony where my friend kept the goldfish, we saw a
woman on the pavement below, stretched face downwards with a
child lying across her shoulder. Both were nearly naked and both
were in such au extremity of starvation that one could have taken
the skin of their backs and twisted it round like an old rag. We were
just sitting down to tea and I said to the bearer, c We really can't